Sickness in the workplace is a pain for everyone involved. No one likes to be at work when they feel under the weather, and there is also nothing worse than sitting opposite a colleague who has succumbed to a virus and wondering how long it will take to jump across the desk and strike you down.
Although germs and sickness may only rarely be caused by low levels of cleanliness, there is no doubt that cleanliness is linked – at least in people’s minds – with a healthy workplace. To maintain a really high level of cleanliness, cleaning firms need to demonstrate that their staff are committed. Better staff training, employee engagement and communication with clients all help to retain staff for longer periods of time, and staff who are invested in their work are more likely to do a better job.
Recent research commissioned by Cleanology has shown that when it comes to hygiene, the FM sector is exceptionally discerning. Of the clients interviewed, the FM workers had a greater tendency than others to take cleaning into their own hands. Just over half are likely to carry sanitising spray at work – 16 per cent more than the norm.
The research looked into behaviour around illness and work, and attitudes towards workplace hygiene. It also highlighted an interesting correlation between sickness and the perceived causes. For example, 80 per cent of FM workers tend to believe that sick colleagues are responsible for passing on germs, compared with just 66 per cent of employees in other sectors.
It is an interesting insight to see that while only a quarter of people blamed a dirty workplace for catching an illness, two out of five are carrying cleaning wipes. For cleaning firms, this is a telling insight into the standard of cleaning in many workplaces, and – for employers and FMs – it must also raise questions around the link between cleanliness in the workplace and productivity. Staff rarely feel able to perform at their best when they are sick.
Although actual levels of cleanliness play a large part, other factors, such as loyalty and recognition, are also strong indicators for how staff feel at work. One way that cleaning firms can help to ease the pressure is by ensuring that FM workers are able to build a relationship with individual cleaning operatives and see them as part of the team. Cleaning staff could contribute to FM team meetings, for example, and communicate with site managers on a regular basis.
Of course, to achieve a symbiotic relationship like this, the cleaning firm needs to achieve good levels of staff retention. As a traditionally low-skilled, low-paid sector, cleaning is not historically associated with high retention levels, but times are changing, and there are many ways in which managers and companies can incentivise staff.
Investing in clear and regular training benefits everyone, from individual operatives to the cleaning firm and its customers. Training helps staff to feel valued and enables them to adhere to the highest standards.
At Cleanology, for example, each of our 500 employees receives induction training which allows us to establish clear foundations and expectations as well as clarifying company ethics, such as health and safety, staff welfare, integrity, corporate social responsibility and environmental policy. We explain the basics, such as what the work entails, procedure for holidays and sickness, and the routine for shifts.
This is followed by onsite training to cover practical aspects such as how to clean, change vacuum bags and handle chemicals, what to do in case of a fire, and also first aid, health and safety, risk assessment and site-specific security protocols.
Training continues into the following days and months, supported by annual refresher training for all employees, and frequent two-day ‘toolbox training’ reminder courses. In the last three months, 50 staff have undergone training to keep in peak performance and stay abreast of constantly evolving issues, such as sustainability and environmental policy. It helps to retain staff and makes them feel closer to the business. Many site supervisors started at Cleanology as cleaning operatives, gaining promotion and career development as they went along.
One of our area support managers, for example, started as a cleaning operative at Cleanology five years ago. Having taken advantage of all the training opportunities, he progressed to supervisor level and is now in charge of a team of 100 people.
Head office staff are offered fire marshal training, while HR teams undertake conflict management training. All supervisors attend a dedicated training course at head office and gain a certificate. Meanwhile managers can attend weekly training sessions on management, HR and HSE, with the opportunity to gain external accreditations from the likes of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), National Examination Board in Occupational Safety and Health (Nebosh) and The British Institute of Cleaning Science (BICSc).
Cleaning specialists also regularly attend carpet, upholstery and floor care courses at Prochem, the UK’s leading chemical manufacturer. For the management team, Cleanology provides frequent IT, communication, sales management and other relevant training.
Decent and fair remuneration also plays a part. Cleanology is a keen advocate of the real living wage, and our research showed that we are not alone – 93 per cent of respondents said they cared about cleaning operatives’ pay to some extent, while almost half (45 per cent) said they would not work for a company that does not pay cleaning operatives the real living wage.
For FM employees, the benefit may not be immediately obvious but, in the long term, greater training for cleaning staff can have a positive impact. Driving higher standards – and greater investment in the job – among cleaning staff builds greater confidence among FM staff around hygiene levels, and helps to maintain a more resilient workplace.